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Tuna noodle casserole from scratch

Tuna noodle casserole from scratch is creamy and delicious without a can of cream of mystery soup. Make a healthier, more wholesome recipe with simple ingredients. Dig in to this hot and comforting classic and see tuna in a whole new light!

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Tuna noodle casserole served on a plate with a green salad and a slice of lemon.

There are a lot of no-brainer casseroles in the world and they all start with a can of cream of blah soup. If you’ve never had any homemade cream sauces, let me tell you: You’ll realize that the can is disgusting afterward.

Change what’s on your plate and change your life. This is one time when it’s really worth it.

Going canned soup-less is the way to a better meal

It might sound like a pain to make your own cream sauce here but it’s worth it. First off, it’s better for your health than preservative and additive-loaded store-bought versions.

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    It also gives you a lot more control over the flavor and texture of your casserole from scratch. You can adjust the levels of salt, pepper, parmesan, lemon juice, etc., or even change the seasoning and/or kind of cheese altogether.

    Plus, you can easily make the sauce thinner or thicker by adding more or less chicken stock.

    Health and logistics aside, homemade cream sauce is just a million times tastier. It’s so creamy and flavorful and it coats the noodles and the tuna perfectly.

    Tips for making perfect tuna noodle casserole

    This is a pretty straightforward casserole to make. That being said, here come some tips and tricks that will take your tuna noodle casserole to the next level.

    • Cook to al dente. The noodles will continue to cook in the oven. So, when initially cooking them on the stovetop, do not cook them past al dente (unless you want a soggy casserole). 
    • Drain the tuna. If you don’t drain the canned tuna, the excess water in the can will make your casserole soggy. Drain the tuna well and break it up into small pieces before mixing it into the casserole.
    • Don’t skip the butter crackers. The butter crackers (I like Ritz) add the perfect crunch to this creamy casserole. Sprinkle them over the top and bake until the casserole is golden brown and bubbly.
    • Finally, add some grated cheese (I like parmesan) and seasoning.

    Ingredients you’ll need for tuna noodle casserole:

    • Good quality tuna
    • Celery and peas
    • Peas
    • Milk and broth
    • Parmesan cheese
    • Butter and flour
    • Egg noodles
    • Garlic and onion
    • Butter crackers

    Flavor changes and variations for tuna casserole

    This recipe is a fantastic baseline recipe for those of you looking to get creative. Here are some fun ways to make this casserole your own.

    • Add veggies. Chop up some onions, celery, and/or mushrooms, sauté them in butter until softened, and add them to the casserole for extra flavor and texture. 
    • Experiment with cheese. Parmesan is great but any cheese will work here. I have been loving cheddar, Swiss, and gouda but the choice is yours. You could even mix and match. 
    • Play with sauce. Try mixing tangy Dijon mustard or Worcestershire into the sauce.

    How to make tuna noodle casserole gluten free

    It’s quite simple to make this gluten-full entree gluten-free.

    Replace the noodles with your favorite gluten-free alternative, use gluten-free flour to make the roux, and swap the butter crackers out for gluten-free crackers of your choosing. 

    To make this casserole ahead of time

    This is a great make-ahead meal. Assemble the casserole and, instead of baking, wrap it in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

    It’s better to leave the butter crackers and melted butter off until you are ready to bake because the crackers can get soggy.

    When you are ready to eat, remove the plastic wrap, sprinkle the casserole with breadcrumbs, and bake just as you normally would. 

    How to make tuna noodle casserole

    Sautee onions, celery, garlic and peas in a pot until the celery starts to soften. Transfer them to a plate and make the cream sauce.

    Onion, celery, garlic, and peas in a pan.
    Sauteed onion, celery, garlic, and peas.

    How to make homemade cream sauce for tuna noodle casserole

    Making homemade cream sauce is easier than you might think and only takes about 10 minutes.

    All you have to do is melt some butter in a saucepan and whisk in a bit of flour to make a roux.

    Adding flour to melted butter on the stovetop to make a roux.
    A roux bubbling in a saucepan.

    From there, slowly pour the milk and broth into the butter-flour mixture, whisking as you go. Continue to whisk until the sauce thickens.

    Nicely thickened cream sauce.

    To finish homemade tuna noodle casserole, add lemon juice, parsley and parmesan cheese to the white sauce and stir to combine.

    Creamy sauce for tuna noodle casserole.

    Add the vegetables, pre cooked egg noodles and the drained tuna and stir gently to combine.

    Adding tuna, egg noodles, and sauteed veggies to cream sauce for tuna noodle casserole.

    Transfer the mixture to a 9×13 baking dish and top with parmesan cheese and a blend of crushed butter crackers. Bake it until golden and bubbling.

    Adding parmesan and crumbled Ritz crackers to the top of tuna noodle casserole.

    How to store and freeze tuna noodle casserole

    This tuna noodle casserole makes for fantastic leftovers. Allow the casserole to cool completely before wrapping the baking pan in plastic wrap.

    Alternatively, you can transfer the contents of the casserole dish to an airtight container.

    Either way, store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

    Ready to dive in? Allow the casserole to thaw in the refrigerator overnight (if applicable), transfer it to a baking dish, and bake at 350 degrees F for 30-40 minutes or until heated through. 

    Scooping tuna noodle casserole out of the baking dish.

    5 side dish ideas to serve with tuna and noodle casserole

    Scooping tuna noodle casserole out of the baking dish.

    Homemade Tuna Noodle Casserole

    This easy tuna noodle casserole is made up of perfectly al dente egg noodles tossed in a creamy, cheesy dressing with flaked, canned tuna. It's topped with buttery Ritz crackers and baked to a bubbly golden brown.
    Prep Time 10 minutes
    Cook Time 45 minutes
    Total Time 55 minutes
    Servings 12 servings
    Author Rachel Ballard

    Ingredients
      

    • 8 ounces medium egg noodles
    • 4 tablespoons butter
    • ¼ cup celery diced into ½” pieces
    • 1/4 cup onion diced into ½” pieces
    • 3/4 cup frozen peas
    • 1 clove garlic minced
    • 4 tablespoons all purpose flour
    • 1 14.5- ounce box good quality chicken broth just under 2 cups, homemade preferred
    • 1 cup milk
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
    • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice plus more as needed
    • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
    • 1 cup parmesan cheese divided
    • 5 ounces can chunk light tuna packed in water

    For the Topping

    • 1/2 cup Ritz crackers crushed
    • 1 tablespoon butter melted

    Instructions
     

    • Cook the noodles in boiling salted water one to two minutes less than the package recommends, drain and set aside.
    • In a small bowl mix the crushed crackers and melted butter. Set aside.
    • While the pasta cooks, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the celery, onion, peas, and garlic and saute until the celery starts to soften (about 3 to 4 minutes). Remove vegetables to a plate and set aside.
    • Add the remaining 3 tablespoons butter to the pan over medium heat and let it melt. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for 30 seconds. Add chicken broth and milk, whisking constantly until smooth, thickened and bubbly; about 2-3 minutes. The mixture should coat the back of a spoon.
    • Turn off the heat and add salt, lemon juice, parsley, and ½ cup of the parmesan cheese. Taste the sauce and season with additional salt, pepper, or lemon juice, as needed.
    • Stir in the egg noodles, sauteed vegetables and tuna, stirring gently to combine so you don’t break the tuna up too much.
    • Pour the mixture into a 9×13’’ or similar size baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining ½ cup parmesan cheese.
    • Add the crushed crackers on top.
    • Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

    Nutrition

    Serving: 1sliceCalories: 193kcalCarbohydrates: 20gProtein: 8gFat: 9gSaturated Fat: 5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0.2gCholesterol: 37mgSodium: 383mgPotassium: 136mgFiber: 1gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 392IUVitamin C: 5mgCalcium: 143mgIron: 1mg
    Tried this recipe?Tag us on Instagram @feastandfarm and hashtag it #feastandfarm
    Course Main Course
    Cuisine American
    Keyword classic tuna noodle casserole, tuna noodle casserole, tuna noodle casserole recipe

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    About the Author

    Rachel Ballard, RN, BSN brings more than 20 years of professional nursing expertise to Feast and Farm. With a love for nutrient dense foods that support wellness, she works to distill complex health information and current trends into recipes that fuel the best version of yourself. Read more about Rachel here.